Sludge treatment is a crucial issue that affects both the environment and the economic stability of different treatment sectors.
It is a problem that brings several factors into play: firstly, the quantities produced, secondly, the treatment processes used and, thirdly, the different reprocessing sectors involved -- energy and biological.
A new study by Frost & Sullivan (F&S) finds that although the European sludge treatment equipment market is rapidly maturing, a combination of legislation and increasing public concern over waste disposal is keeping activity healthy. F&S predicts that the market will grow from US$1.95billion now to US$2.77billion in 2010.
The study points out that sludge treatment and disposal techniques have been subject to particularly rigorous inspection, leading to strict policies governing the treatment processes suitable for final disposal routes. These dominant forces present a major market opportunity for equipment manufacturers.
The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directivewith its next deadlines due to be put in practice this yearin particular drives the market to meet legislative requirementsthus boosting the demand for treatment equipment said F&S research analyst Suchitra Padmanabhan.
There is a need for high technological capability and industry knowledge. Environmental credentials and responsiveness to regulatory changes are also critical success factors for those operating in this industry.
Innovative and flexible services are also likely to ensure future growth in this regulated market where environmental consciousness is rising.
Significant opportunities remain in upstream treatment efficiencies where innovation and adaptability is a key for success, says the report.
The most progressive technologies, such as dewatering and drying, continue to be advantageous to companies compelled to find methods for reducing the amount of water content in sludge to minimise transport and disposal costs.
Sludge drying is expected to garner greater demand and revenues with increasing safety regulations and restrictions being placed on disposal options such as landfills.
An increasing emphasis on thermal disposal is further likely to push up demand for dewatering and drying since the sludge that requires incineration necessitates such forms of pre-treatment.
F&S also finds that the market is highly fragmented with a surfeit of participants. Though this is not a particularly threatening trend currently, it is envisaged that in the long term aggressive policies by market leaders could make it difficult for smaller and medium-sized competitors to exist and compete successfully in the market.
Another factor to consider is the significant regional disparities within Europe with respect to the level of market development with variations in technological progress, scope of treatment capacity and associated demand for treatment equipment.
While the established treatment markets such as Germany and Scandinavia are primarily driven by revenues from replacements and upgrades, the major prospects depend on growing demands in the United Kingdom and France as well as emerging markets such as Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and, to some extent, Italy.
With the increasing consolidation and strengthening of market majors, smaller companies have to find opportunities by developing unique technical expertise or targeting niche specialist markets.
Future success is largely dependant on the ability of participants to collaborate with equal partners and integrate additional services added Padmanabhan.
As treatment capacities become increasingly met, the future pattern for investment is largely seen in smaller to medium-sized treatment plants.
The impending saturation in demand and slow down in revenue growth rates are a prominent challenge faced by most market participants.
Equipment suppliers have responded by expanding toward international markets or by specialising in niche markets which still experience continued, even if sporadic, potential.
Market leaders such as Degrémont, for example, maintain an active profile in all domestic as well as international markets.
Today, the company provides all types of sludge treatment: incineration in dense fluidised-bed furnaces, such as those in operation in Valence and Elbeuf (France), and in several locations in the USA; o-incineration in household refuse incinerators, such as those used in Monaco, Amsterdam and Besançon; an alternative to incineration, the wet oxidation process (WOP), mineralises sludge; lastly, drying is necessary when the sludge is destined for agricultural re-use, although this does not preclude its thermal conversion or placing in landfills.
Three processes are available: indirect drying, Naratherm, which produces stabilised and sanitised sludge solids with a dryness of 90percent for agricultural use; direct drying combined with centrifugal separation, Centridry, which achieves 65percent dryness without stabilising or sanitising the sludge; and, finally, two-stage drying with Innodry.
There is also the Héliantis process that enables solar drying of purification sludge up to a dryness of between 45percent and 80percent, depending on requirements.
The report also finds that other companies use specialisation to succeed in a particular segment, such as Andritz in drying technology.
This company uses convective drying of dewatered sludge in a triple-pass drum to produce evenly dried and pasteurised biosolids.
The final product is more than 90percent dry, while the process itself is a virtually dust-free operation, produces no odour emissions and is carried out in a single step. It also has the advantages associated with compact design, low operating costs and simple commissioning.
The F&S report concludes that the European Union and national legislative measures will continually seek to develop a more environmentally conscious approach toward sludge management and remain the main drivers in the sludge treatment equipment market. In such a compelling market climate, it says, the most proactive and solution-driven suppliers are likely to excel.